In my opinion chickens are one of the best choices for the urban homesteader that is interested in adding livestock to their list of self-sufficiency skills.
Though our initial investment in chickens was primarily for eggs there are numerous benefits associated with raising hens. They can provide a source of meat for your family. Chickens can also provide a little extra income if you choose to sell eggs to friends. Their manure is absolutely fantastic for your gardens soil. They require a modest amount of space and housing in order to be healthy and productive. I have found over time that they can be extremely entertaining as well.
Due to the size of our homestead, which is 1/16th of an acre, my family approached owning chickens from the standpoint of maximum egg production in the beginning. The desire to see the “biggest bang for the buck” so to speak led me to purchase four leghorns for the homestead. Leghorns are a Mediterranean breed that is rather flighty in disposition. In fact so much so that we know call our little patch of land “Bossy Hen Homestead”. Chickens tend to get broken up into three broad categories, layers, dual purpose (meaning meat and eggs) and meat birds. Leghorns are layers. They can easily produce 300 eggs a year during their peak years. As you can see we were looking at nearly 100 dozen eggs with our young birds.
As time wore on I became intrigued by the Slow Food movement. The way food and livestock was raised became more important to me than the amount of food produced. I began to understand that though production certainly holds value there are so many opportunities afforded by the homesteading lifestyle that big agriculture cannot compete with due to its unyielding stride for the mighty dollar so why not seize this unique opportunity?
I quickly realized that I could sacrifice a few dozen eggs in exchange for personality so I added a docile barred rock and Americauna to the mix. A pleasant side effect of my late blooming realization has been that visually food can be fun too simply by adding different color eggs to the mix, in this case brown and blue.
Eventually it dawned on me that I could and should embrace rare and endangered breeds as well. It has become important to me to help promote diversity and heritage among my livestock also. That is when I added the rare Swedish Flower Hen to my growing flock of layers.
I was introduced to the Swedish Flower Hen by local breeder Maria of Paradise in Disguise Hobby Farm near Delhi, N.Y. These rare birds have a very inspiring story. In the 1970s this native landrace breed from Sweden was thought to be extinct. But in the late 1980s the Swedish Poultry Country Club located three flocks in isolated locations; the villages of Esarp, Tofta and Vomb. Realizing the importance of preserving this industrious and winter hardy breed they were eventually able to get numbers back up to around 1,300 birds currently living in their native country.
In 2010 Paul Bradshaw of Greenfire Farm had breeding pairs of the Swedish Flower Hen imported to the U.S.A. He later imported a second group with a crest to increase the gene pool. I happen to have two S.F.H’s with wonderful crest upon their head.
As you can see it has been a journey in regards to what we want to accomplish on our little urban homestead. If you are considering adding livestock to your family’s operation consider heritage breeds. Become a steward of farm history!
As a third-generation micro-farmer, Tobias Whitaker had strong early influences in regards to responsibly working the land and taking pride in producing his own food. Tobias is currently working on an urban homesteading book and is also exploring ways to increase his yearly yield and lengthen his growing season. You can find him online at Seed to Harvest blog.
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